Imagine that you’re walking into court to divorce your spouse of ten years. When you got married, you had wanted to stay with her for the rest of your life. You enjoyed your honeymoon but cracks in the relationship had emerged by year five. By year eight, you could barely stand her presence but you didn’t file divorce papers until year ten for financial reasons.
Now, you’re wearing the biggest grin you’ve had in years because you’re finally free. You only need the judge’s approval and your life belongs to you again.
The judge calls you to step forward and then immediately denies your petition to divorce. The logic? You were married to that woman for ten years so you must obviously love her too much to let her go… and you are to remain a prisoner to your former self.
You may think the scenario’s impossible, but…
I am an unemployed Ph.D. Employers see the degree that took many years to earn and they assume that I am too wedded to my old field to really want the job for which I applied. My resume doesn’t show how cracks started forming early on or how I had decided to pursue a nonacademic career a year or two before completing the degree. It also doesn’t show that I only finished the degree because I had already poured so much time into it and was so close to completing it when I made that decision.
There’s not enough real estate on a cover letter to fit everything in.
And employers never get to hear much of that because you’re never supposed to badmouth your former employers or academic institutions.
When I’m lucky, employers ask me about it. Usually, they just move on to the next resume.